The Surprise of My Life
Tzvi FishmanBefore making Aliyah to Israel, Tzvi Fishman was a Hollywood screenwriter....
You don't have to have ruach hakodesh to understand why the world loves "spiritual" bestsellers that don't connect you with G-d. They don't commit you to anything. They're non-threatening. They pretend to offer "spirituality" when they are really leading people astray from G-d. It's like the tale of the king in "The Kuzari". He keeps trying all kinds of things in order to get closer to G-d, but nothing helps. Then an angel appears and informs him that his efforts are pleasing to G-d, but not the means that he has been pursuing. The angel tells him to seek out the actions which are pleasing to to the Creator. So the king sets off to speak with a philosopher, then a bishop, than a sheik. Unsatisfied with their superficial answers, he decides to meet with a rabbi, even though the Jews are at the lowest strata in exile. Finally, via his discussions with the rabbi, the king realizes that the Torah and its mitzvot are the only true G-d given way to make contact with the Almighty. So he converts to Judaism and converts all of his nation with him. But for most people, the Torah and commandments are "too heavy," so they embrace all sorts of make-believe religions, living out their lives in imaginary delusion, mistaking darkness for light as thy stumble blindly down bookstore shelves of empty and deceitful paths. So, with this introduction, here's the next installement of "Heaven's Door," a unabashedly honest spiritual journey that brings the seeker to the Torah and the one and only G-d of the Jews.
Chapter Thirteen – The Surprise of My Life
After the main course of the meal was served, Saba Yosef rose and headed for the exit of the hall. Baruch motioned for me to follow, and we hurried out to the street where his car was waiting.
“Saba doesn’t stay long at parties,” his great grandson noted. “He keeps to his schedule of study and prayers.”
I sat silently in the back seat, afraid to open my mouth, not wanting to disturb the old man in the event that he was praying. Instead of going straight home, Baruch sped through the sharp turns of a dark mountain road until we arrived in the village of Meron, some fifteen minutes away from Safed. All the way up a small hillside were loudspeakers blasting festive music, and booths selling hippie-looking clothing and religious paraphernalia. Pilgrims made their way on foot up the incline, religious and non-religious alike, children, soldiers, young people and old. Leading his great grandfather into an old domed building, Baruch explained that it was the tomb of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, the author of the “Zohar,” the esoteric “Book of Splendor,” which was the gateway to the secrets of the Torah.
“On ‘Lag B’Omer,’ the day marking his death, nearly half a million people come here to pay their respects,” Baruch said.
Seeing Saba Yosef, all of the devotees at the crowded and lively site either bowed in respect or rushed over for a blessing. The vaulted mausoleum was jammed with religious Jews of all kinds, who studied and prayed with ecstatic fervor. The intense spiritual energy in the place reminded me of the Kotel. Once again, women were separated from the men, on the other side of a wall.
The crowds parted like the Red Sea as Saba Yosef approached, letting him reach the tomb of Rabbi Shimon, who had learned the secrets of Torah from the Prophet Elijah during the twelve years he had spent in a cave, hiding from Caesar’s legions, who were seeking to execute him for refusing to honor the Roman conquest of the Israel. Extending his arms and prostrating his upper body over the tomb, Saba Yosef said a long silent prayer.
Caught in the pushing and shoving, I felt claustrophobic. To me, it was like a crowded, standing-room-only, subway car, traveling up to the Yankee Stadium on a hot summer’s day. Though there were large fans on the walls, I felt that I didn’t have any air. So I pushed my way toward an arched doorway that led to another, less crowded chamber which housed the tomb of Rabbi’s Shimon’s son, Eleazar, who had spent the 12 years in the cave with his father, learning the secrets of Torah.
It was here that I received the shock of my life.
Sitting on a bench by a table was my father, who had died thirty years before! But he wasn’t the sixty-five-year old man who I had seen for the last time in a hospital bed, but rather, he was my father, the way he had looked when I was a kid. The exact image and replica of my father.
At first, I thought it must be a freak coincidence, to find a perfect double of my father here in this holy cavern in Israel. I stared at the young, thirty-year-old Hasid before me, still not believing my eyes. He sat learning from a big book, like the tome of Maimonides that I had been learning with Saba Yosef. He bobbed back and forth in concentration, the way Jews do when they pray, like a candle flame trying to stay attached to its wick. He had a skullcap, curly side-locks, and a beard, but he was my father. His eyes, his brow, his cheeks, his nose, his mouth. I don’t know how else to describe it.
To make sure, I took out my wallet and slipped out an old photograph that I hadn’t looked at for years – a photo of my father proudly holding his baby son, Craig, in his arms while my mother looked on happily from the side. There was no question about it. The man in the photograph was the same man who was sitting in front of me in the tomb of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai.
Now you can say that I was hallucinating. Or you can say it was because of the fast. But I had already eaten a filling meal. True, the religious ecstasy in the place was intense, and I suppose that I had been getting more and more caught up in the unworldly atmosphere that surrounded Saba Yosef, but what followed next was absolutely real.
When I sat down at the table beside him, I heard my father’s voice say, “Hi, son.”
The Hasid didn’t pick up his head. He didn’t move his lips. The voice just came out of him, the voice of my father, as clear as could be, as if a ventriloquist was hiding under the table. I must have been the only one to hear it, because the young man didn’t pay any attention. Busy with his studies in the hectic, noisy room, he may not even have noticed that I was there.
“Dad? Is that really you?” I asked.
“Yes, Craig. It’s me,” the familiar voice responded.
It was my father. There was no other voice like his in the world.
“What are you doing here?” I asked.
Certainly, anywhere else, people would have thought it strange to see someone talking to himself, but here, in the tomb of Rabbi Shimon, with everyone praying rapturously toward the ceilings and walls, nobody seemed to notice or care.
“It’s a good place to be,” he replied. “This devout fellow is my soul’s reincarnation, only he doesn’t know that he was me. That’s the way it goes here.”
The young man was my father. Only he didn’t know it. I felt like hugging him all the same.
“I paid my dues in the afterworld,” the incorporeal voice lamented.
“What was it like?” I asked.
“I’m not allowed to tell you, but I learned my lesson.”
“What lesson, Dad?”
“Listen to Saba Yosef. He will teach you. Everything he says is true.”
“Is this why I came to Israel?” I asked him. “To meet you? Did you arrange this all?”
My father didn’t answer. He was gone.
“Dad? Dad?” I called.
But his voice didn’t return. Finishing a page of his learning, the young man looked up and saw me staring at him.
“Shalom,” he said with a friendly smile.
“Shalom,” I answered, not knowing what else to say.
He closed the cover of his book and stood up. It was amazing how his face was the face of my father’s. Except for his smile. My father had never smiled very much. Not that I could remember. At least not in the last years of his life when his Parkinson’s had made his face muscles and expression as frozen as ice. Maybe that’s why his soul had to come back to this world again. To learn how to smile. To learn to be happy with what he had.
Still smiling, the man started walking away. That’s when I freaked out. Once again, it was like my father was walking out of my life.
“Dad!” I called out. “Dad!”
I ran after the Hasid and grabbed him before he got to the exit. I couldn’t just let him walk away like that. I had to get his phone number, or address, or something, so we could keep in touch.
“Dad!” I cried, hugging him. “I’m your son!”
I suppose it looked pretty strange. After all, I was almost sixty, and he was half my age. Taken by surprise, he tried to break away from my bear hug, but I was so overwhelmed with emotion that I grasped him with superhuman strength. There was a commotion around us, and people started to pull us apart.
“He’s my father!” I tried to explain. “A reincarnation of my father! The voice of my father just spoke to me now!”
“TAZOV OTEE!” the man shouted in Hebrew. “Leave me alone!”
Finally, I tired, and an army of hands pulled me away.
“Hu meshugah!” someone said.
“He’s crazy,” another person said in English. “He’s flipped out.”
Suddenly Baruch appeared. He grabbed me and dragged me away from the crowd.
“Ani atepel bo,” he assured them. “It’s all right. He’ll be all right.”
Outside the building, he led me to a long basin with faucets for washing hands by the lavatory, and splashed water on my face. I sobbed on his shoulder. Everything was so frigging intense. I just blew my cool, that’s all. It certainly wasn’t like me. But so much had happened in the last few days during the spiritual roller coaster that I was on.
Calming down, I apologized for my outburst.
“You don’t have to apologize,” Baruch said. “I was afraid you had gotten lost.”
On the way back to the car, I told him what happened and how I had spoken to my father.
“It sounds like Miriam’s Well is working,” he noted, as if nothing out of the ordinary had occurred. “What did your father tell you?”
“He told me to listen to Saba Yosef.”
A crowd of people were gathered around the car, where the old sage sat patiently waiting.
I realized it was the best advice anyone could have given me, and I had to take advantage of it now.